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All's Fair In Love and War

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EVA was restless.

It wasn’t an unusual sensation to her; a spy couldn’t survive without mastering the pervasive sense of unease that came with pretending to be somebody else. The trick was (or hers was), to bury it under lies, and lies, and more lies, all the way down, and somewhere along the way, truth lost its meaning.

And, well. There was always her motorcycle. And her Mauser.

It was late in the spring of 1971, just weeks after she had been whisked away from the sweltering heat of Hanoi by Snake and brought here, to Zero’s sprawling estate in America. Her homeland, if she was feeling especially poetic.

They’d asked her to join their fledgling organization, dedicated to fulfilling The Boss’ will: The Patriots. Basically, a new and improved version of The Philosophers. EVA had said yes. She’d respected The Boss, and besides, China had dropped her like a hot potato after...all that. Where else was she going to go?

There was just one little thing that she wished she’d known about beforehand. And it was this thing in particular that was causing her restless mood today.

Zero had called an in-person meeting for the members of The Patriots here at the estate, which, according to Snake, was a first since the organization was formed. Dr. Clark—previously known to EVA as Para-Medic; Donald Anderson—formerly Sigint; Zero, still called as such by everybody involved; Snake, who she’d tried calling “Big Boss” once and never again; and...Ocelot.

He had arrived late last night. She only knew because there was only one person she could think of who would have vanity plates that said “CAT” on his motorbike, and also leave it parked so egregiously in front of the main house when he could have parked it by whichever one of the guest houses he was occupying.

It was annoying. And for some reason, instead of doing her usual things, it made her want to visit Snake.

“Hello? It’s EVA,” she called, knocking on the door to his guest house. It was almost certainly unlocked, and they were familiar enough that formalities were unnecessary, but EVA was no fool: it never paid to surprise a soldier.

Soon enough, the door opened. “EVA,” said Snake, looking painfully ill at ease in his worn jeans and button-down shirt. It was cute. She kissed him.

“Morning,” she said, smiling playfully as she broke the kiss. He always looked faintly astonished when she put the moves on him, but it didn’t give her the thrill of victory she usually got when she seduced men. Instead, a warm feeling rose inside her like an animal waking up from winter sleep. She moved past Snake into the small cottage—almost the size of a normal house, really. “What are you up to?”

Closing the door, Snake followed her into the kitchen. “Working on the book,” he said.
Sure enough, the round kitchen table was cluttered with books and paper. An encyclopedia was propped open to a page about reticulated pythons, in front of a notebook with a quick sketch of the snake drawn and the words “pretty tasty” scrawled next to it.

Ah, yes. His “field guide”.

“Looks like it’s really coming along,” she said tactfully, taking the opposite seat at the table.

“Hmm,” he grunted in response, heading over to the counter. “Coffee?”

“I’ll take it black.”

Silence fell between them as Snake filled the coffeemaker. EVA didn’t like it. “Ocelot’s here,” she said suddenly.

She watched Snake’s reaction closely. He paused very slightly. “Yeah?”

“It looks like he got in last night.”

“Uh-huh.”

Her restlessness increased. “Zero told me he only joined The Patriots conditional of you joining.”

Snake shrugged uncomfortably. “Something like that.”

She wanted to say, do you know why?

“So I guess that’s everybody for the meeting today,” she said instead, changing the subject.

“Yeah,” said Snake.

EVA crossed her legs. “You don’t sound happy.”

“I don’t really know what we’re supposed to be doing.”

“We’re fulfilling The Boss’ dream, aren’t we? A unified world.”

“Yeah...” he said.

“So what’s wrong?”

Snake leaned back against the counter. “The Major wants to make me some kind of...idol. He keeps talking me up. Spreading stories.”

“That’s true. Word of the great ‘Big Boss’ is spreading far. It even reached me in that hole in the wall in Hanoi. You don’t like it?”

“Hmm.”

“Come on, what kind of man doesn’t want to be famous?”

“Haven’t done much to deserve it lately.” He filled a mug of coffee from the machine and brought it over to the table. EVA took it and sipped, then grimaced.

“Ugh. What on earth did you make this with?”

“Huh? It’s that stuff.” He waved at an unmarked tin can on the counter. “Army issue.”

EVA curled her lip. “It’s disgusting.”

“Guess I’m used to it.”

She sighed and shook her head. “I didn’t come here for the coffee.”

“Then what did you come for?”

“I came here for you,” she said, with her most charming smile. One beat too late.

Snake looked unconvinced.

“Let’s walk up to the house together,” she said, masking the truth with a harmless suggestion.

She didn’t want to admit she was afraid of a 26-year old.

 

The meeting was predictably dull. Introductions were made and re-made, political landscapes were mapped, and plans were discussed.

Anderson spoke of his involvement in a project called “ARPAnet”, which he swore would connect the world within a matter of decades, faster and more reliable than telephone, or radio. EVA thought it sounded a bit fantastical, but then again, she’d never been much for technology.

Clark got on a spiel about cloning that lasted for a full half hour, first explaining the entire plot of a sci-fi flick called “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” before Snake got her to cut to the point, much to everyone’s relief.

Snake briefly outlined his work on the new special forces unit he was assembling, dubbed “FOXHOUND”. It was the first time in the meeting he seemed to come alive, avidly describing some promising recruits he’d found and their progress in training.

“Speaking of training,” Zero had interrupted, “I’ve arranged for you to oversee some training exercises abroad. Got to keep you in the public eye, you know.”

“...Yeah,” muttered Snake, the spark in his eye going out. Out of the corner of her eye, EVA noticed Ocelot frown very slightly.

She herself didn’t contribute much to the meeting, except to give what information she had about the activities of the Chinese branch of the Philosophers within the last several years, although her intel was limited by her circumstances. Mostly she just listened, with special care to how the members of the group interacted with each other.

And, of course, she kept her eye on Ocelot. His contribution was similar to hers, detailing what he knew about the Russian Philosophers and the political situation there. For the most part, he too listened in, occasionally offering commentary.

He didn’t look too much different from when she’d last seen him; clean-shaven, short-cropped hair, cold, sharp eyes. He’d grown into his features, at least, no longer resembling the ridiculous child she’d known in Tselinoyarsk...although, of course, he still wore spurs on the heels of his leather boots. The familiarity of this idiotic gesture was a strange relief.

Almost against her own will, she found herself searching for a resemblance. The shape of his eyes, the curve of his cheekbones...the more she looked at him, the more the certainty churned in her gut.

When she saw him glance at her, she had to look away.

 

After the meeting, they all went their separate ways. There would be another one tomorrow, but that wasn’t what concerned EVA.

She just had to know.

So that was why, about an hour after they dispersed, she took up her Mauser and made her way to Zero’s indoor shooting range. As predicted, Ocelot was there, firing both of his revolvers at the target. First one, right hand: six perfect shots. Left hand: six perfect shots again. He reloaded them with dizzying speed, spun them theatrically, and fired both at once: eleven perfect shots.

Just eleven.

He turned to face her and re-holstered his guns in one fluid movement. Neither of them spoke, each regarding the other.

Finally, she said, “Back then, ADAM...that was you.”

He smirked, not seeming surprised. “And what if I was?”

“You have a pretty strange idea of what mission support entails.”

“Ah, yes. I never thanked you for doing my work for me. Thanks to you, the mission was a great success....mine was, at least.”

She had forgotten, over the years, how insufferable he was. “I could have killed you, back at Rassvet,” she snapped.

A faint crease of displeasure appeared on his forehead as she reminded him of the beating he’d taken at her hands—and of course, the wheels of her bike. “You were lucky,“he started, but she cut through his words.

“No. Snake stopped me.”

A flash of surprise crossed his face. He covered it by drawing a gun and twirling it, pacing back and forth. Stalking. Like a cat. “Why did you come here? Don’t tell me you wanted to settle the score. Oh, now that’s something. What do you say to a little game?” He looked almost comically eager, eyes glittering savagely.

EVA smiled back. “I’ll pass,” she said sweetly. “Actually, I’m grateful. Now I can be close to Snake without my mission interfering at all.”

The gun stopped spinning, pointed directly at her. Ocelot looked furious.

Just as she thought. “I don’t think he would like it very much if you shot me. Zero might not appreciate it either.”

“I could get away with it,” said Ocelot, with confidence. His finger tightened on the trigger.

EVA’s hand itched to reach for the gun on her belt, which suddenly felt much too far away. It occurred to her that if anybody could get away with murder in broad daylight, at a high security estate, with a motive and with signature weapons to boot, it was probably Ocelot. She couldn’t call his bluff. So she doubled down. “He’d be heartbroken, you know.”

Ocelot gritted his teeth. There was a long, tense moment in which neither of them moved, then Ocelot made a “Tch!” sound and re-holstered his gun. “Get out of my sight,” he said, not looking at her.

“I’m not finished with you yet. The Boss—“she cut herself off, not sure of how to finish.

Ocelot looked back at her. “What about The Boss?”

She studied his face. He seemed intrigued, a little annoyed, but nothing deeper. As far as she could tell. “...Nothing,” she said.

After a moment, he nodded and turned away, an obvious dismissal. It was just as well. The sudden pressure on her heart was too much to bear.

 

EVA’s first impression of Ocelot, just after the Virtuous Mission had ended in failure, was that he was vain, arrogant, and above all, annoying. The following week she’d spent in Groznyj Grad did little to soften this impression; he strutted about practicing with his pretty new revolvers, jumping down the throat of anyone who dared to mention his defeat at the hands of an American agent.

Then, Operation: Snake Eater was underway, and she wished a hundred times over that Snake had let her pull the trigger at Rassvet. Snake seemed to like the kid, for some unfathomable reason. EVA’s thoughts weren’t nearly as charitable. Ocelot was always in her way—as EVA, and as Tatyana, as if Volgin hadn’t made her life difficult enough.

The only thing about him she couldn’t hate was his absurd, single-minded obsession with Snake.

It had been equal parts funny and pitiful to watch the lengths he had undergone in order to impress Snake, and even more so his apparent lack of self-awareness in doing so. She remembered hearing him in his room through the thin walls of the barracks after returning from the battle with Snake over the crevice, cursing and swearing about “that damn American dog” and working himself up into a frenzy. It hadn’t been long before she heard some other, rather suspect noises.

But more than anything, she remembered the look on Ocelot’s face in the torture chamber of Groznyj Grad, fingers curling and uncurling eagerly at his sides as Snake hung, bloodied and battered and helpless.

She didn’t know what else she expected from somebody supposedly raised by Volgin.

Then he’d shot out Snake’s eye. He’d been shooting at her, trying to scare her with his Russian roulette trick—although he probably wouldn’t have minded if he killed her. But Snake had gotten in the way, just as the gun went off. She saw the look on Ocelot’s face when it happened: surprise, and just for the barest sliver of a second, regret. He hadn’t meant to do that.

Somehow, all of this didn’t make Snake hate him. She didn’t understand it. It frustrated her. It frustrated her then, and it frustrated her now. She was certain that to this day Snake was unaware of the massive crush Ocelot was still harbouring for him, but whatever they did share made no sense to her whatsoever.

During the ride on the WIG to Alaska, she’d asked him about it.

“What the hell was all that back there?”

“Huh?” said Snake, snapped out of his reverie. He’d probably been thinking about The Boss.

“I mean, with Ocelot. Was that all he wanted? A pistol duel?”

“They were revolvers,” said Snake.

“That’s not the point.”

“What was the point then?”

“What did he want?

Snake thought for a moment. “He wanted a fair fight.”

“Snake. He chased us all the way from the fortress to board an aircraft in the middle of takeoff, over a lake. He could have died. We all could have died.”

“Yeah, well...”

“Well, what?”

Snake actually smiled. “Kid’s got moxie, huh?”

And that was all he had to say about that.

She didn’t think of Ocelot again until just three weeks ago, when she’d heard from Zero that he had been with the American Philosophers all along; then the dots had started connecting in her head.

And they didn’t stop.

 

The next few days settled into a pattern: meet Snake in the morning, attend meetings—Zero wanted her to reach out to her connections, to see if they could establish a steady source for information in the East—avoid Ocelot, have dinner with Snake. Zero had convinced him to take some leave, ostensibly to spend time with EVA, although Snake didn’t seem to know what to do with himself in the sudden abundance of free time.

Hence, the book.

“I don’t know what this one tastes like,” he said one morning at breakfast, tapping on a page in his encyclopedia with the picture of a small yellow snake. Corn Snake, EVA read as she leaned over. Snake continued, “It says here they sell them at pet shops. Maybe I should pick one up...”

EVA stared at him. Was he being serious? He looked serious. But that was insane. Where did she even begin? “Snake...” she started.

“What?”

“You can’t buy a live animal at the pet shop and then eat it.”

He squinted his one eye, perplexed. “Why not?”

“Because...” she said, exasperated. “Just because!”

He looked baffled.

“They’re pets, not food!”

“Does it make a difference to them?”

“I don’t know—probably. They were raised in captivity. They’re not wild animals.”

“I meant whoever’s running the pet shop,” he said.

She sighed. “Snake...just promise me you won’t do it.”

He grumbled, looking more put out than he really should have. “Fine,” he muttered eventually.

EVA frowned. “What’s wrong?” she asked, putting a hand on his arm.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Come on, don’t give me that. Tell me.”

He shrugged. “Just...bored. Doesn’t feel right. Not doing drills every day.”

Oh, so it was that. “I can think of a few....physical activities...we can do,” she said suggestively.

“Like what? I could walk you through the basics of CQC, or...”

“That’s....not what I meant.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” It was too easy to forget how utterly clueless Snake could be. It was charming on a good day, but just now it felt...distant. Then she said, “Why don’t you ask Ocelot to spar with you?”

She couldn’t say why she suggested it. Maybe the jealous glances Ocelot kept tossing her and Snake from across the meeting room were getting to her. It was pathetic to watch; Snake didn’t give any indication of noticing, and Ocelot was too proud to so much as approach him.

Or maybe it was just because she was still looking for some kind of indication, something in Ocelot’s speech, or movement that would confirm it.

Snake’s face lit up. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”

He never smiled like that for her.

 

So that was how, just after lunch, EVA found herself sitting on a bench to the side of Zero’s private indoor gymnasium, watching Snake and Ocelot limber up for a match. Snake was wearing cargo pants and an olive green turtleneck with the sleeves rolled up, which he removed before they began. Ocelot was clad in a skintight black t-shirt and stylish red track pants. Both of them had wrapped their hands with boxer’s tape.

They grinned at each other like loons as they took up the CQC stance across from each other, preparing to fight.

“I’ve been waiting for this day, John,” said Ocelot.

EVA felt a twinge of annoyance. John. Ocelot was the only person who called him that. It just felt too strange, to her. Too personal, in a way she never could be.

“Let’s see if you’ve gotten any better,” replied Snake.

Ocelot threw the first punch. Snake deflected it easily, moving to throw him, but Ocelot landed on his feet and struck out with a kick. Snake leapt back, and they circled each other again.

“Pretty good,” said Snake.

“I’ll do more than ‘pretty good’,” growled Ocelot.

This time Snake struck first, a flurry of punches. Ocelot blocked all of them, but Snake’s advancement threw him off balance. Ocelot’s eyes widened as Snake smirked at him, their faces inches apart, and EVA could have sworn she saw a blush creeping across Ocelot’s cheeks before Snake tripped him and sent him unceremoniously to the ground.

Snake backed off as Ocelot lunged to his feet, face still flushed, but mostly from humiliation now. Snake looked as relaxed as ever, jerking his chin in a ‘come on’ gesture, still with that little smirk on his face.

They came together again and again, punching, kicking, grappling, throwing. Ocelot adapted quickly to Snake’s tricks, and soon enough they were almost blow-for-blow, Snake only just managing to stay ahead.

“Heh, that’s the way,” he said, as Ocelot trapped him in a wristlock behind his back.

“I’ve got you now,” Ocelot crowed in Snake’s ear, positively giddy with victory.

“You think so?” Snake said, and jabbing his opposite elbow into Ocelot’s ribs, escaped the hold and brought his elbow down on the back of Ocelot’s skull as the younger man bent double. Refusing to go down without a fight, Ocelot tackled Snake’s legs on the way down, and they both fell to the floor.

EVA had trouble making out what was happening in the tangle of limbs, but soon enough they were grappling, rolling over and over on the floor as they fought to be on top. If there was technique involved, EVA couldn’t see it; they fought like wild beasts, struggling for dominance.

From the looks on their faces, they were having the times of their lives.

Eventually, they came to a stop: Snake had Ocelot face-down on the ground, kneeling on his back with his arm twisted up at a painful-looking angle.

“Damn it!” Ocelot cursed, slamming his free hand on the floor in a fist.

“Don’t move,” Snake ordered, tightening his hold. They were both panting heavily from exertion, sweat gleaming on their bodies. “Do you give up?”

EVA could practically hear Ocelot’s teeth grinding. He didn’t reply.

“I could be here all day,” said Snake patiently.

Oh, Ocelot would just love that, wouldn’t he. “...I concede,” he muttered, finally going limp.

EVA strongly suspected, from the way he lay on the floor a few seconds too long after Snake released him, ignoring Snake’s outstretched hand and gaze as he pulled himself to his feet, coupled with the redness in his face, that he had enjoyed that in a way that he wasn’t fully comfortable admitting to himself.

His eyes met EVA’s briefly, and after the initial shock—he must have forgotten she was here—his gaze filled with enough poison to fell a herd of elephants.

She didn’t have the chance to react before he was distracted by Snake giving his shoulders a hearty thwack.

“Good match,” he said. “You’ve gotten better.”

Ocelot’s expression hovered between sullen pride and an eagerness for approval. He was so easy to read, like this, EVA thought. Around Snake, he was just a dumb kid with a crush. It was easy to forget.

“Next time, I’m going to win,” Ocelot vowed, emphasized by his ridiculous pointing gesture.

Except he wasn’t. He wasn’t going to win, not against Snake...or against EVA.

For some reason, it didn’t make her feel better.

 

Love was an odd concept to EVA. She was familiar with it in a way that most people weren’t, but at the same time, a stranger to it. It was her job to make people fall in love with her—or, it had been. The second she’d fallen in love herself, it was over.

She supposed it made sense. People in love made mistakes. She knew that well. It was all a part of the game. But even so...she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.

She’d thought, once or twice, about marriage. About having a house with Snake, and a dog, and two beautiful children who grew up to be just like their papa. But it was nothing more than a fleeting fantasy—a future that could never be.

People like them didn’t live and love like normal people. They lived in a different world. It was simply her lot; she couldn’t imagine living any other way. But sometimes, just sometimes, she felt an ache in her heart when she thought about the life she could have lived.

It made her think about The Boss.

“I killed my comrade, The Sorrow, here on the cliffs of Tselinoyarsk, two years ago,” The Boss had said to her, back then. Her voice had been calm, like the surface of a lake at night, but the depths in her eyes were unfathomable.

“Why?” EVA said.

The Boss had smiled then. A strange, sad little smile. “We had a child,” she said. “On the beaches of Normandy, in 1944, I bore The Sorrow’s child. But I didn’t even get a chance to hold him in my arms; The Philosophers took him away from me. From us.” She paused here, gazed focused on something EVA couldn’t see as she stepped forward and lifted her hand, as if reaching out to somebody.

But nobody was there.

“On that day...” The Boss said softly, “two years ago. The mission was that The Joy and The Sorrow must fight each other, and one must perish. If we were to both survive, the life of our child would be forfeit.”

EVA felt a terrible chill wind down her spine, like a snake. “So you were forced to...”

“The Sorrow asked me to kill him. He harboured no ill will. With my own hands, I took the life of my lover...” and now, here, she looked back to EVA. “I hope you never have to do the same.”

“But your child—your son,” said EVA, “They could have been lying. Did you get to see him?”

The Boss smiled again. “I am blessed,” she said, “To have been able to see all of my children here, before I die.”

The COBRAs, EVA had thought then. And Snake. The Sons of The Boss.

But there was another.

 

“Ocelot,” she said to him, one day. They were alone, in Zero’s meeting room, everybody else having already filed out.

“What do you want?” he said imperiously. “You stayed in here to corner me, so out with it, woman.”

She was glad for the large table between them. “I just want to know something.”

He gestured broadly, spreading his hands wide. “Well, what is it?”

“It’s about The Boss.”

“This again?” his eyes narrowed. “What about her?”

“At Groznyj Grad...did she...talk to you?”

“Be specific.”

EVA decided to start with something easier. “Did you know about her true mission?”

Ocelot regarded her for a moment, coolly. She couldn’t read his expression, and schooled her own. “To an extent,” he said. “I knew she was undercover, but I wasn’t given orders to help her. She didn’t seem surprised to learn that I was ADAM. And...she asked me not to kill Snake—John. Not that I was planning on it.” He smirked.

Could have fooled me, EVA thought, and that was the problem, wasn’t it. She had been fooled.

“She was your mother,” she blurted out, finally, the truth that had been festering inside her for all this time.

What?” said Ocelot. He didn’t look so much confused as offended. “What kind of ridiculous—“

“It’s true,” EVA said. “You were born on the beaches of Normandy, 1944, to The Sorrow, and The Joy...The Boss. She had a C-section right there, in a hail of gunfire—you know this story, don’t you? A woman giving birth on the battlefield....”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” snapped Ocelot, but his face was growing paler by the second.

“You were the son of a famous war hero. That’s what they told you, wasn’t it? But Volgin never told you who. I bet he knew, though.”

“Shut up!”

Actually, had Volgin known? He’d known something, of course, because he’d told her that story himself. Her mind rapidly catalogued interactions; slips of the tongue, meaningful looks, anything that could give her a clue.

She remembered being surprised at how Volgin seemed to let Ocelot off so easy, every time he’d failed to capture Snake, or when he criticized Volgin’s methods. She’d thought it was because it was as Volgin had told her: he’d raised the boy himself. But it was hard to imagine the Colonel harbouring fatherly feelings for anybody. So maybe it was for another reason.

For instance, the watchful eye of Ocelot’s mother.

“You know it’s true, Ocelot,” she said. “...Adamski.”

Don’t call me that,” he hissed. He paced to and fro, two fingers tapping his forehead. Thinking. “Supposing it’s true,” he said at last. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I thought you should know,” she said, honestly.

He looked deeply suspicious. “You must have a motive.”

It was ironic to her, that now that she was being completely sincere, she would be so easily disbelieved. Whoever said that truth had power was full of it. “I admired The Boss,” she said. “As a soldier, and as a woman. And as a woman...I can’t imagine how painful it was for her, to have been so close to you for all that time.”

Ocelot spit out a curse in Russian, turning towards the table and slamming a fist down on it. His head hung down; EVA couldn’t see his expression. He stayed like that for a long time.

She was starting to get concerned. Should she leave? She was a little afraid that if he sensed movement, Ocelot would shoot to kill, and had to remind herself that he wasn’t actually a wild animal.

Just as she was easing weight off one foot to begin sneaking to the door, he spoke, voice low. “...Does John know?”

“No,” she said.

His head snapped up. “I see...yes, I see now.” He was nodding to himself, standing up straight. He shook a finger at her knowingly. “You knew I wouldn’t want you to tell him. This is blackmail. What do you want?”

Exasperation bubbled up inside her. “Ocelot, I’m not trying to blackmail you. If you don’t want me to tell him, I won’t.”

“Why not?” he demanded.

Why not, indeed. It occurred to her, as she looked at him from across the room, at the machinations lurking behind his eyes and his ridiculous posturing, that she didn’t hate him.

It was a strangely freeing thought.

“I wanted to try putting our differences aside,” she said. It felt so odd, telling the truth, like the words were water overflowing from a deep well inside her.

He snorted. “A likely story.”

“I mean it,” she said. “After all...we both love him. Shouldn’t we try to get along?”

He gave her a sharp look, and held it. Then, just as abruptly, he looked away. “...He loves you,” he said acidly, and then strode out of the room.

And that was that.

 

Yes, love, to her, was an odd concept.

Most people—normal people, civilian people—fell in love and married, and that was that. You belonged to one person. If you wanted to belong to a different one, you divorced and married again.

Another person to make you whole.

But it wasn’t like that for her. For them. They were broken, by war, and death, and betrayal, and most of all the games they were made to play in, like pieces being pushed around on a chessboard.

Nobody could make them whole again. But they could still fall in love. To EVA, there was nothing at all sacred about it. Sex was sex, and love was an objective, not destiny. Jealousy was nothing more than a tool she could use.

Only ever sleeping with one person? Only ever wanting one person? She couldn’t imagine it.

If she’d learned anything from spending all this time with Snake, it was that she’d never be able to make him happy. Not on her own.

Maybe it was just a silly thought.

 

Once again, she found herself having coffee at Snake’s guesthouse. She’d bought some better stuff, Costa Rican beans—“You should visit there sometime, we’ll take a vacation,” she’d said to him.

He sat at the table while she ground the coffee, still working on his book.

Yesterday she’d found a container of crickets in his fridge. “I bought them,” he’d said.

“What? Where?” she demanded.

“The pet store. They were selling them as food.”

She’d run her hand down her face. “As food for the snakes.

He smiled then, as if he was about to tell the most hilarious joke the world had ever heard. “But EVA....I am a snake.”

God.

Anyway, here she was, trying to broaden the man’s horizons through superior coffee. She didn’t know why she bothered. Putting the coffee on to boil, she turned to watch Snake as he flipped through the pages of his encyclopedia.

“Hey,” she said.

He looked up.

“What do you think about Ocelot?”

The question caught him totally off guard. “Ocelot?”

“Yeah.”

“What do I think about him?”

She sighed. “Yeah.”

He sat back in his chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He needed to trim his beard, thought EVA. “He’s smart. Cocky, but he gets away with it—big fish in a small pond. He’s handy with those revolvers...they suit his fighting style pretty well. If he’d stop showing off all the time, he’d be a great soldier.”

“That’s not really what I meant,” said EVA.

“Huh?”

“I meant...what do you think of him, as a person?”

Snake squinted at her in confusion. “I...think he’s all right?” he said.

EVA’s gaze swung heavenwards. “Snake...” she decided to try a different tactic. He was too dense for this. “What do you think Ocelot thinks about you?

“EVA, what’s all this about?” said Snake, even more confused.

“Just answer me.”

He drummed his fingers on the table. “He doesn’t like to be beaten. So maybe...some kind of rival?” he glanced hopefully at EVA.

She raised an eyebrow. “You really think that?”

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” he growled, frustrated.

“Do you remember, back in Tselinoyarsk, when Ocelot waited for you above the crevice and ordered his men to stand back so he could fight you one on one? Do you remember when he kept on getting more revolvers, just to impress you? Do you remember when he stole all your food, and ate it, just so he could eat the same things you did?

“...Yeah, I remember,” said Snake.

And?” she demanded.

“I was pretty impressed by how thorough he was.”

She wanted to hit her head against the counter. “Snake, he’s in love with you,” she said, once again totally exasperated.

There was a long pause. “What?” said Snake.

She was getting that reaction a lot lately. Dealing with men was so tiresome.

“You heard me,” she said. “It all started back in Tselinoyarsk. I thought by now his crush would have worn off, but it looks like you still make him pretty hot under the collar.”

“Wh...what...” Snake was stammering. He looked so sweet when he was flustered. “EVA!”

She turned to fetch two mugs down from the cupboard, and pour coffee into them. “Really,” she said. “You’re so dense. What did you think was going on?”

“I thought he was in love with you!” said Snake.

The absurdity of this statement was so complete that it was all she could do not to drop the carafe as she burst out laughing. “Y-you—you thought—with me?”

“It seemed like—he was always following you around, getting in your face. He grabbed your chest a couple of times! And he keeps giving you these...looks.”

“S-Snake,” EVA choked out, still laughing. “Just—just stop. Ahahahaha! You really thought...”

“EVA...” he muttered, embarrassed.

She couldn’t contain her giggles. Ocelot, in love with her? The very idea of it. Finally, she was able to get her laughter under wraps. Thank god, she was having trouble breathing.

Snake still looked flustered, and a good deal unimpressed. “What makes you so sure?” he said. “About Ocelot, I mean.”

EVA took the coffee over to the table, placing one mug in front of Snake before sitting in her seat and sipping her own. “Snake, believe me. He’s gay. For you. Specifically.” Probably more generally too, but that wasn’t important.

Snake stared into the middle distance for a while, apparently attempting to process this. “Hmm,” he said finally. “So...what should I do?”

EVA crossed her legs. “I can’t tell you that. You have to decide. Whatever you do, I don’t mind it. I’m a big girl.”

“Hmm...” he said again, and then he took a sip of coffee. “Hey, this tastes great.”

“I knew you’d like it,” she said, with a little smile.

 

Then, she watched. And waited.

Not much changed for a few days. She visited Snake, he grumbled about being bored, they drank coffee and had sex. She put out feelers for her Eastern contacts, rode her bike, shot targets with her Mauser.

She thought about taking a road trip to Idaho. The place she was born. She wondered if her parents still lived there. She didn’t even remember what they looked like.

She asked Dr. Clark how long it would take to drive there.

“Between two and four days,” she said. “Depending on how fast you go.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said EVA. “What’s it like?”

“It’s beautiful. If you go up into the mountains, it’s just like a postcard. There are lakes, rivers, canyons, forests, waterfalls...it has some of the largest areas of unspoiled wilderness in the United States. Have you ever seen—“

“I don’t really watch movies,” EVA interrupted, knowing where this was going.

“Oh...well, that’s all right. Let’s see...Idaho also has a large farming population, and they produce nearly one-third of the potatoes grown in the US.”

EVA took it as a sign. She decided not to go.

But then, of course, Dr. Clark suggested that they have a ‘movie marathon’. EVA found herself sitting on a couch while The Creature From The Black Lagoon played on the TV and Dr. Clark chattered non-stop about movie trivia. The plot completely evaded EVA, partly because she couldn’t take it seriously, and partly because Dr. Clark wouldn’t shut up.

So this, she thought, is socializing. The normal way.

She kept an eye on Snake and Ocelot, too, of course. Not much changed with Ocelot; he avoided her like the plague, which wasn’t difficult because lately he was here and gone with whatever he and Major Zero were scheming this time.

She caught Snake watching him thoughtfully from time to time, when their paths crossed. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything. But at least now he knew.

It was five days after she’d last spoken to Ocelot when it happened.

She and Snake had just gotten back from that dinner date he’d promised her so long ago; she was disappointed at the lack of sushi joints in America, but they’d found a decent French place. Snake was intrigued by the possibility of eating snails, and quite seriously asked the waiter if they ‘were the kind you can catch around here’.

He looked good in a tux, she thought. And probably didn’t have enough occasions to wear it. She herself was dressed in a shimmering red gown, more modest than she was accustomed to, but she couldn’t say it felt bad. The Major had lent them a fancy car, which Snake had just parked in one of several garages attached to the main house.

They had just started down the long driveway, EVA removing her high-heeled shoes and walking barefoot on the warm pavement, when Ocelot emerged from the house.

He saw them, stopped, took in their mode of dress, then wordlessly turned and kept walking.

Snake glanced at EVA. She nodded, with a little shrug.

“Ocelot,” called Snake.

He stopped again, but didn’t turn around. “What is it, John?” he said, sounding irate. He turned around fully when Snake didn’t reply, and looked surprised to find himself face to face with the man.

He looked even more surprised when Snake grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him.

EVA’s eyebrows rose high enough to hide in her hairline. Well, she thought. There really was nothing subtle about him.

After a long moment of Snake and Ocelot—mostly Ocelot—passionately making out, EVA made a graceful exit by tiptoeing away. It didn’t seem like it was going to stop anytime soon, and she needed to get her beauty sleep.

 

The next morning, she went over to Snake’s guesthouse, the visit having become a part of her daily routine. She was a little late this morning, having slept in, but Snake was always up and working on his book for the first few hours of the day. Always, it seemed, except today.

She didn’t even have to knock before she heard the noises: a large crash sounded from inside, followed by a series of muffled moans and the low growl of Snake’s voice. Then more crashes. She heard Ocelot’s voice, too low to make out the words, but he sounded out of breath. Snake gave a grunt of pain, followed by a sound from Ocelot that made even EVA’s cheeks burn.

Good god, were they fucking or fighting?

...Probably both.

She decided to come back later.

 

“So, how was it?” she said that afternoon. She was sitting on the porch of her guesthouse with Snake; she had a glass of wine, and he had a cigar.

“Huh?” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “With Ocelot.”

Snake blew out a long plume of smoke. “...Good,” he said.

EVA couldn’t help but notice what his shirt collar failed to hide: some bruises, and what appeared to be...bite marks. “You wouldn’t know it from the racket you were making,” she said dryly. She plucked his cigar from his hand and took a drag.

Snake looked embarrassed. “You heard?”

She smiled, passing the cigar back. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

“You’re fine with it?” said Snake.

“Hmm...am I going to have to compete, now? I wonder if I can keep up. Ocelot’s awfully young.”

“EVA...”

She laughed. “You’re a lot for one girl to handle,” she said. “I can share.”

He looked relieved.

“By the way, if you’re looking for date ideas...I heard he likes Spaghetti Westerns.”

“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “Thanks.”

 

She ran into Ocelot later, outside the main house. He looked like he was in a good mood, for once. Of course, that ended as soon as he saw EVA.

They regarded each other for a moment, EVA relaxed, Ocelot wary. She spoke first. “I see you’re up and about. Feeling sore?”

He flushed bright red, scowling. “I don’t know what you heard—“

“Oh, I heard plenty.”

“Bitch,” he snarled.

“That’s no way to talk. You should be thanking me,” she said.

He looked uncomfortable for a moment before drawing himself up. “Ocelots are proud creatures—” he began.

EVA rolled her eyes so hard it felt like they might stick that way. “Forget it. Just...be good to him.”

Ocelot nodded slowly, regarding her. “You didn’t tell him about...my mother.”

“I said I wouldn’t, didn’t I?” She sighed, stepping closer to him and holding out her right hand. “Look, let’s make a truce.”

He looked at her hand as if it were booby trapped, and then back up at her.

“Come on, shake,” she said. “I know it’s a dog trick, but cats can do it too.”

He took her hand and shook it once, with an expression of great distaste.

“That wasn’t so hard, now was it?” said EVA.

“We’re not friends,” he said, and then stalked off.

Well, thought EVA, watching him go, that was probably as good as it was going to get.

She smiled. Good enough.